Background: Persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPH) is one of the main causes of mortality and morbidity in infants affected by congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). Since the structural changes that lead to PPH take place already in utero, a treatment starting in the prenatal phase may prevent the occurrence of this complication. Objective: To summarize the development process of antenatal sildenafil for CDH. Methods: The pharmacokinetics and efficacy of sildenafil have been assessed in the rat and the rabbit model. The transfer of the drug through the human placenta has been measured with the ex-vivo placenta perfusion model. Results from this experiment are being incorporated in a pregnancy-physiologically based pharmacokinetic (p- PBPK) model. A phase I-IIb placental transfer and safety study is ongoing. Results: Sildenafil administration to pregnant rats and rabbits led to therapeutic foetal drug levels without maternal and foetal toxicity, although it was associated with impaired vascular development in foetuses with nonhypoplastic lungs. Peak concentrations and 24-hour exposure were higher in pregnant rabbits compared to nonpregnant ones. In rat and rabbit foetuses with CDH, sildenafil rescued the lung vascular anomalies and partially improved parenchymal development. Sildenafil crossed the human placenta at a high rate ex-vivo, independently from the initial maternal concentration. Conclusion: There is preclinical evidence that maternally administered sildenafil prevents the vascular changes that lead to PPH in CDH newborns. The phase I/IIb clinical study together with the p-PBPK model will define the maternal dose needed for a therapeutic effect in the foetus. Foetal safety will be investigated both in the clinical study and in the sheep. The final step will be a multicentre, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
- Congenital diaphragmatic hernia
- Foetal therapy
- Lung development
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Transplacental transfer